Labor Leaders Rally At Eastern; Predict Bush Will Intervene
MIAMI (AP) _ Labor leaders staged a rowdy show of support Thursday for Machinists planning to strike Eastern Airlines, receiving a boost from the airline’s pilots while predicting President Bush would intervene to stop a walkout.
The AFL-CIO Executive Council joined members of the Machinists and other unions at a noisy rally at Eastern’s headquarters.
Buoyed by the presence of more than a dozen Eastern pilots, the labor leaders predicted they would mount a unified front and stall air travel and cargo if the 8,500 machinists and ground personnel strike Eastern as planned March 4.
″I’m here to let the Machinists know we’re going to help them,″ AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland said as he and about 1,000 Eastern workers and supporters marched in front of Eastern’s operations yard. ″We’ve got a special effort here, all the unions in the federation are showing their support.″
The union is threatening to strike because of what it considers $150 million in unreasonable concessions demanded by Eastern.
Kirkland said organized labor would do ″everything possible within the law″ to halt Eastern, sister carrier Continental Airlines and their parent company, Texas Air Corp., in the event of a strike.
On hand for the rally were a handful of uniformed Eastern pilots and several officials from their union, including one who sparked the ire of several AFL-CIO leaders by saying Wednesday the pilots would cross Machinist picket lines if Eastern management ″makes it worth our while.″
That official, Rick Chapman, secretary treasurer of the Eastern pilots union, contended he was quoted out of context.
″We support the membership of the IAM,″ said Chapman, who apologized to Kirkland and William Winpisinger, president of the International Association of Machinists, for any trouble his Wednesday statement had caused.
The pilots, according to union policy, will not decide whether to honor Machinist picket lines until there is a strike. But a pilot, Bob Breslin, said the ″momentum is growing very rapidly″ to side with the Machinists.
Airline pilots, however, have traditionally spoiled labor’s hopes of crippling airlines during strikes by crossing picket lines.
Eastern management, which has said it plans to operate in the event of a strike, made its presence felt as well.
A sign hanging from a company building read: ″Welcome AFL-CIO delegates. Eastern, your official airline.″ During the rally a small plane flew overhead toting a banner reading, ″Eastern, official airline of the AFL-CIO.″
Most of the federation officials gathered in nearby Bal Harbour for the AFL-CIO leadership’s annual meeting flew here on Eastern, which offered a group discount. Federation officials have acknowledged the irony in that but said they encourage people to fly Eastern because they want the financially strapped airline to survive.
The rally was part of labor’s dual strategy of preparing for a strike while at the same time trying to pressure Bush to name an emergency board and automatically delay the March 4 strike deadline by 60 days.
″I have no reason to believe the president won’t do that,″ Winpisinger said when asked if he expected Bush to name an emergency board if last-ditch mediation under way in Washington fails.
Kirkland called on Bush to name the board ″for the sake of the future of the airline, for the sake of the communities Eastern serves, for the sake of the country.″
Machinists leaders said there would have been a larger crowd at the rally but that Eastern invoked mandatory overtime rules and forced several hundred employees to work past 3:30 p.m., when the rally was to begin.